1st August 2020

Dear friends
How are you keeping? This phase of the pandemic is beset by uncertainties. We continue to pray for our leaders and for society as a whole as difficult balancing acts are undertaken to allow social and economic activity to resume, whilst not allowing the virus to spread rampantly again. Indeed, as I’ve been drafting this letter the rules have changed again for our area, to prevent meeting with others in homes and gardens. Individuals also face difficult decisions, especially as official shielding is ‘paused’. At the same time many are feeling the effects of the massive economic slowdown, with the consequences for people’s jobs. All this means that this period can be emotionally draining and challenging. Let’s continue to look out for each other and be sensitive to the variety of ways in which we are personally experiencing all this.
For four Sundays now, our churches have been open once again for public worship. Throughout August services in church will continue to take place just once a week in each parish – at the usual times of 9:30am at St James’ and 11am at All Saints’. The second Sunday – 9th August – will again be family-friendly. Adult numbers have been in the high teens at Altham and the low thirties at All Saints – and each week there has been a number of children present. I have been pleased to see how well it has been possible to conduct worship safely and how people have followed the instructions. Some things are quite strange – such as giving the communion bread without saying anything and not sharing the consecrated wine together. Many valued things are missing, including refreshments afterwards as well as hymn-singing. But gradually a temporary normal is becoming established – now also including face coverings in churches as well as in shops. Please note that from 8th August face coverings will be a legal requirement in church (apart from those with an exemption).
I don’t really like the phrase ‘new normal’ for these kind of things, because it is right to remember that they are exceptional and we pray for the day when they can be lifted. ‘New normal’ is, I think, a better phrase for those things which will emerge as long-term changes. Ones we pray will be for the good. Greater concern for each other, proper provision for the care system, more families out walking together, better provision for cycling…and, dare we hope, a greater awareness of the preciousness of life and our dependence on God.
Those in church are very conscious of those who aren’t with us physically, but are in spirit (and in the Holy Spirit). Don’t forget that anyone with an internet connection can view the 11am service from All Saints – either live or later on. You don’t need to have a facebook account. Just go to www.facebook.com/allsaintsclayton. The daily online services will, however, pause over the next two weeks, during my holiday time, but will then resume. I love the fact that people are joining together to join in the prayer of the church via this means and we will have to find a way of this being an ongoing part of the new normal.
Back in lockdown VE Day stood out as a day of glorious sunshine and of togetherness. It came just as we edged out of the peak of deaths. And it helped us remember that we have been through massive challenges before and that we will get through this one, too. It is sobering that around 61,000 lost their lives in this country to German bombing throughout the war, and that excess deaths this year so far are running at 53,148 (51,264 of them with COVID-19 on the death certificate as either the main or a contributory cause of death). On 15th August the nation will mark 75 years since the end of the Second World War on VJ Day. Do listen out at 11am as the church bell/s will ring out from both our churches in commemoration. Unlike in 1945, we are far from the end of our encounter with covid-19, but we must pray that we have the courage to build a better future as our parents and grandparents did emerging from the war.
A little word about money. Both PCCs are very grateful to those who have continued to support our churches financially during this time. Obviously, church income has dropped considerably with no collections in church and no weddings or funerals having taken place either. If you’ve not been able to give during these months you might like to make a catch-up, via cheque or bank transfer. Just ask if you could do with the bank details. For those from All Saints’ who give via weekly envelopes, as and when you come back to church you will find your box of envelopes waiting for you. Or perhaps this would be a good time to move to giving by standing order – again just ask. Standing order allows you to work out what is the right amount for you to give and to give that bank regardless of whether or not you’re in church or have the right amount of money in your wallet. And you are entirely in control – you can change the amount or stop the order entirely whenever you wish.
Also, a word on buildings. You may remember all the water damage at All Saints’ early in the year. Well, the new boiler was installed just before the lockdown, and plans are in place and permission granted for galebreaker material to be fitted in the tall lancet openings to the tower, so that driving winds don’t blow lots of rain into the tower. Fencing is going up along the boundary between school and church, and the shade of green chosen means that it shouldn’t be too obtrusive, whilst deterring those who have been breaking-in recently, and anyone else seeking to gain unauthorised access. At Altham the south aisle roof is being refurbished (following work on the nave and the chancel in previous summers) and some stunningly effective and efficient LED lighting has been installed. At Altham School a beautiful new modular unit has been opened to house reception.
I hope that the remaining part of summer will give everyone some opportunities to recharge their batteries. Not everyone will be able to get away on holiday, but if you can find opportunities that are safe for you do try to get a little bit of a change and some refreshment before autumn and winter, with the extra challenges that will bring.
Those of you who have been attending or following the Sunday services online will know that I’ve been focusing on the readings from Romans over these last weeks. I hope they’ve

given us all plenty to think about, and to affirm us in our faith. This Sunday’s reading reminds us that the bible is honest and realistic about the condition of the world and the suffering and death that occurs. At times there is nothing to do but to groan with a groaning creation, as we lament lives cut short, livelihoods lost, life disrupted in all sorts of ways. We are called to our knees and to the cry Lord, have mercy. From that position of grieving with those who grieve we are called to practical action to help others, action which points to the love and justice of God’s kingdom. And we are called to live as people of hope, who have the conviction that the future ultimately lies in God’s hands, that he is a good, good God, and that one day the present labour pains will give way to the full life, joy and peace of his new creation.
Yours in faith, hope and love,

Revd Toby

 

 

 

 

June 2020

Dear friends

I hope that you are keeping well. Over the six weeks or so since my last letter I have continued to see people out and about – including people I hadn’t previously seen since lockdown and I’ve continued to see familiar names commenting on screen through the Facebook services. So a special hello to those I haven’t yet seen.
These last weeks have, of course, seen a gradual easing of the lockdown, and more life has returned to our streets and parks. Even non-essential shops are open again. And from 4th July many of the restrictions will cease. We will be even more dependent on people exercising common sense and self-control, for the sake of the common good.
One element of the change is that – for the first time since 15 March – we can have Sunday worship in church.
Both our churches will, God willing, open for worship from Sunday 5th July. There will initially be only one service in each church per week – Altham at 9:30pm and All Saints’ at 11am. As you have probably heard, there will be no singing permitted. There will be Holy Communion, which will be received standing and in one kind (only the consecrated bread will be received).
The fact that church is open for worship should not make anyone feel obliged to come at this stage. Those who are shielding should NOT attend worship before the start of August at the very earliest. Others who are or live with those at increased risk should they contract COVID-19 should think carefully about whether or not it is right for them to come at this stage.
We are taking the steps necessary to make it as safe as practical for people who attend. Please do your bit by using the hand sanitiser when entering and leaving the building, by keeping your distance from others and by following the instructions of the wardens/sidespeople. Pews which are not to be used are clearly marked.
We will need to record the name and contact information of those who attend in case this needs to be supplied to contact tracers. This will be kept securely and destroyed after three weeks.
If you bring children with you, they will need to remain in the pew with you. Do bring your own quiet toys/books/colouring as the bags, toys, etc have all been tidied away.
A collection will not be taken during the service, but there will be a plate available if you wish to place anything on it as you enter or leave church. For All Saints’ weekly envelope givers the new boxes of envelopes will be available for you to collect. However, the simplest and safest method of giving is to do so direct from your bank. If you haven’t done so yet, perhaps now is the time to switch to giving by standing order? We can easily let you have the details.
Churches will open from 15 minutes before the advertised service time. Once the service is over you will be asked to leave – starting with those nearest the exit. There will be no refreshments or fellowship time after the service. People must not congregate in groups for conversation, particularly indoors.
I anticipate that there will be sufficient space for those who wish to attend to do so safely. Should there be a situation where the church has no more safe seating please don’t be offended if you are told that unfortunately you can’t come in on this occasion. We’ll make sure you get priority seating next time!
We will stream the 11am service from All Saints’ Church for people not attending to watch at home, either live or on catch up. Other times of worship will continue as at present to be offered via Facebook – 10:45am short family worship on Sunday mornings, 10am Morning Prayer on Wednesday and Friday mornings, 6:30pm Friday Praise and 9:30pm Night Prayer (except Friday). The pattern of worship will be reviewed when we reach the school summer holidays.
Before too long I hope that it will be possible to begin services on Wednesday mornings at All Saints. Funerals are possible in church and we are planning on baptisms from September, all with restrictions and social distancing. Weddings are also possible and we will have one in August which will be lovely.
For those of us who can, returning to the church building will be a privilege. It will in particular be a joy to celebrate Holy Communion together again and I pray that we will all approach that gift with eager expectation after so long a fast from the Eucharist. Those in church will hold in their thoughts those who are worshipping at home. May the spiritual unity which has helped us keep together through these lockdown months persist as we go forward.
Can I include a reminder for those who aren’t on-line that anyone can access a free Church of England resource called ’Daily Hope’ by ringing 0800 804 8044? There is a choice of listening, from hymns to a full service and the Mothers’ Union midday prayer.

With my love, prayers and best wishes,
Toby

 

 

May 2020

Dear friends

Well, how are you doing?  I have managed to speak to some of you (whether on the phone or at a distance when passing during exercise) and have seen social media updates or had messages from others.  Some I’ve had updates of from our pastoral team, who are ringing many of our ‘older’ parishioners on a regular basis.  Others I haven’t had any contact with and I hope that no news is good news.  Don’t be afraid to get in touch one way or the other if you’d like a chat or yourself or someone else to be kept in prayer (publicly or privately).

I know that a number of you or your loved ones have been directly affected by the coronavirus.  A few have been very ill, and others more mildly so.  A few have lost loved ones during this time, in some cases with Covid-19 as the main or contributory cause of death.  Others of you are already living with bereavement or sickness of yourself or a loved one and are having to do so without the physical comfort of relatives or many of the activities and services which can help us through.

Nationally it is good to observe that we are ‘past the peak’, but shocking to recognize that at least 30,000 lives have now been taken by this virus in our country already.  I note, too, that numbers of people in hospital with Covid19 here in the North-West remain high, in recent days overtaking the number in London.

I think that by and large we are all trying to remain as positive as we can and ‘get through’ but we will need to allow time individually and as a society to work through the trauma of this experience.  I pray that we will also take the time to think through carefully what we need to learn from it and how life can and should be different, post-pandemic.

Some of you are in one way or the other on the ‘frontline’.  The whole parish is proud of those of our number who are nursing the very sick and at times accompanying the dying.  Everyone’s thoughts and prayers are also with all those whose work brings them into heightened risk from this virus, whether as carers, in shops, in the emergency services or whatever it may be.  Whilst many of us seek to stay safe and work from home, you are out there day by day.  Our schools and their staffs are working very hard to support home learning, to care for those who need to be in school, and to keep in particular touch with those where there is a special need for support.

We are now in the seventh week of lockdown.  We are now beginning to look for how it will be eased and a gradual move towards greater freedom made be possible, hopefully without compromising public health.  The very simple message will become more complicated and so it will be very important that we continue to follow the instructions we are given.  A good number of you fall into the clinically very vulnerable group and have several more of your minimum twelve weeks minimum ‘shielding’ yet to come.  Our thoughts are with you as you cope with these strictures , especially those who live alone.

We are now well into the Easter season.  For many of us going through Holy Week and Easter without going ‘to church’ was very odd.  However, I hope whether through the services on facebook or through your own times of worship at home, you were still able to feel the reality of the Easter gospel of God’s redeeming act in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And I hope that whilst physically apart we still feel ourselves to be members of one body, as indeed we are, the body of our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

I hope that everyone is now aware of our Facebook live services (Sundays from 10:45, Fridays at 6:30pm) and prayer times (Wednesday and Friday morning prayer and litany at 10am, daily night prayer at 9:30) and that you can access these on-line even if you do not have a Facebook account.  Google ‘Facebook All Saints Clayton’ and you should get the link.

If you aren’t on-line then I hope you have found the Sunday worship services on BBC television or radio.  There is now also a facility to access a FREE Church of England resource called ’Daily Hope’ by ringing 0800 804 8044.  There is a choice of listening, from hymns to a full service and the Mothers’ Union midday prayer.  Also, to enable you to join in the Night Prayer that some of us are sharing in at 9:30pm, I’m including the order of service with this mailing.  It is a very peaceful way to reflect and wind down at the end of the day and to place ourselves and the hurting world into God’s hands in prayer.

Some of you have asked about giving during this time.  The PCCs of both parishes are very grateful to those who give by standing order and whose contributions have continued.  They are very conscious that for some the lockdown has brought financial difficulties through unemployment, being placed on furlough, or the self-employed losing their income.  We quite understand where individuals need to suspend or reduce their giving.  Others who normally give by envelope may wish to help by giving via standing order, or if preferred via one or more one-off BACS payments.  Details for giving to All Saints’ can be found on the church website – or simply get in touch with me or Les Moore at Altham or Linda Bracewell at All Saints’ for details or a form.  Alternatively, you can simply accumulate your giving and bring it when the churches finally re-open.

Both our churches pledge to give 10% of our general income in charitable donations.  As part of this, All Saints’ PCC have now gifted £1000 during the lockdown to Clayton Baptist Church to help them help our community.  They are very active  as part of the Hyndburn Hub, and at the request of social services also helping needy families more widely across East Lancashire.  Some need a food parcel to tide them over, or because they have no-one to go shopping for them.  Others have come out of prison, or left an abusive relationship or similar and have absolutely nothing.  The Baptist Church on Sparth Road is open daily and you can always drop off food, household essentials, toys/colouring/craft things for children.

One effect of these strange times is the rediscovery of prayer by many who had perhaps given it up as old fashioned or irrelevant.  I’m sure that those of us who pray anyway have found ourselves praying more intently and regularly as we seek God’s peace, his healing for the sick, his strength and protection for the carers.  In prayer may we know his strength to carry us, his peace that passes understanding and courage for the path each of us is called to walk.  And in prayer may we seek his will, his direction for our futures, and that his kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.  Here is a prayer you might like to use:

Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may all rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

With my love, prayers and best wishes,

Toby

 

Easter 2020

Dear friends

I hope that you are keeping well both physically, emotionally and spiritually in these testing times.  In many ways we are simply called to obey a simple instruction – stay at home and save lives.  But suddenly being separated from physical contact with loved ones (including our church family) is hard.  Staying in all the time can get very claustrophobic, all the more so if you have a small home and no or very limited outdoor space.  Suddenly being with our nearest and dearest 24/7 can try our nerves.  And we can all fear and worry what will happen to us, and what will happen to our loved ones should we or they catch COVID-19.  Sadly, we will all know people who will get it, and very sadly we will all know people who will get seriously ill, and in some cases die.

If you are struggling in any way with any aspect of this, PLEASE don’t struggle alone.  If you’re struggling with practical tasks, ask and we will put you in touch with someone who could help.  If you’re struggling with the isolation or could just do with a chat, please pick up the phone.  Your clergy are actually less ‘busy’ than normal at present, with the usual run of activities, meetings and so on suspended.  Of course, there is childcare to juggle, and you may need to leave a message.  But do so and I’d be delighted to call you back.

I am writing this letter as we enter Holy Week and Easter.  In this week, we plumb the depths of our human callousness and rejection of God – and the immensity of God’s love.  We know the Christ who reveals himself most powerfully in giving up his life for us on the cross.  And from that unconditional sacrifice of self, God raised him to new life, and opened for us the gates of his everlasting kingdom.  That kingdom life we can share now by the Spirit, even as we wait for the day when it comes in its fullness, when death, disease, hatred and sin are forever gone and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Holy Week and Easter will be very different this year, but many of us will have more time to be with the Lord in prayer and reflection, united in spirit with Christians around the world.  As many of you have discovered, I am doing what I can to make Sunday and Holy Week services available via the internet as well as daily prayer.  The principal services for Holy Week will be:

Maundy Thursday 8:15pm
Good Friday 10:45am families, 11am Way of the Cross, 2pm Good Friday Liturgy
Easter Day 10:45am families, 11am Eucharist

You can find all this at www.facebook.com/allsaintsclayton .  You don’t need a Facebook account to access the page or view the videos.  You can either watch live or catch up once they’ve finished.  The 11am service on Good Friday will be special as many individuals have recorded themselves reading lessons or reflections.

If you go to the All Saints’ website www.allsaintsclaytonlemoors.org you will find the orders of service for the main services, together with the readings and prayers for each Sunday.

 

You can also find services on BBC Radio every Sunday and there will be religious broadcasting on the TV over Easter as well as lots of material on line.

I pray that when Easter comes, despite the fact that we won’t be in church singing Alleluia, despite the fact that we won’t be gathering with family or watching children hunt for eggs in the garden or any of the other things we’re used to, we will still know the joy in our hearts of the truth that Christ is risen, that love has conquered, that ultimately there is nothing to fear.

With my love and prayers, now as always , Toby

 

 

A pastoral message from the Bishop of Blackburn:-

 

It is extraordinary that a virus that was unknown until very recently and that is unseen to the naked eye, has been able to have so much impact on so many people in such a short space of time and at so many levels of our national and international way of life.

Schools forced to close, acts of Christian worship suspended, workplaces shut down, restrictions advised on travel, unprecedented pressure on our NHS, calls for self-isolation. Who can imagine a Holy Week and Easter, proclaiming the death and resurrection of Jesus; events at the centre of our faith, without public gatherings of worship, meditation, celebration and prayer?

Into this crisis Christians bring a positive emphasis of hope. Church is not cancelled; we continue, but in a different way. Faith can be lived out and expressed in our homes through prayer and study together.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy 2.9, he speaks of his suffering in prison, being chained like a criminal, locked down and then declares:

“But God’s Word is not chained, the work of God goes on relentlessly. The gates of hell cannot prevail!”

Of course, in a crisis opportunities to serve and help are multiplied. A recent visit to the Blackburn Foodbank showed me a band of wonderful volunteers making up food parcels for collection.

In the slow down, there will be new time for rethinking and re-evaluating our priorities in life.

This outbreak is a solemn reminder that we are not in control of our present, or our future and my prayer is that it will lead to a fresh turning to God, to a new awakening of faith and over the Easter period a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That using the familiar words of the baptism and confirmation service, sees many turn to Him, submit to Him and come to Him, as the way, the truth and the life.

The disciple Peter said to Jesus when the crowds were leaving Him, “To whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” He does indeed. May in this crisis many find that to be true.